- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Montgomery County Planning Board is rejecting a citizens group’s request to present evidence of building violations in Clarksburg in consecutive hearings.

“Our fear is that this is part of the continued cover-up,” said Amy Presley, co-chairwoman of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee.

The Planning Board has scheduled hearings on violations for Oct. 6 and Oct. 25, and on sanctions for Nov. 3. Members will hear a staff update with no public testimony tomorrow afternoon.

The board has denied the advisory committee’s request to hold hearings on consecutive days or one week apart, and have denied a request to review the group’s 11 categories of violations in a comprehensive manner.

“The Planning Board did take [the citizens’] suggestion under consideration when they made the decisions regarding hearing dates,” said Planning Board spokeswoman Nancy Lineman.

Ms. Lineman said the board could not schedule consecutive hearings because of “previously scheduled items and already full agendas.”

Mrs. Presley said that Planning Board staff, in the Department of Park and Planning, have told her that they and the developer, Newland Communities of San Diego, need more time to respond to violations that the advisory committee has raised since July 14.

On Oct. 6, the Planning Board plans to hear onlyevidence of violations that the committee mentioned in a July 14 letter. The board plans to hear all other evidence Oct. 25.

“Do they plan on having a 20-hour hearing on the 25th?” Mrs. Presley asked.

Mrs. Presley said the board is “segregating” information, instead of allowing the advisory committee to present a full overview of what has happened in the 1,300-home Clarksburg Town Center.

“The Project Plan has been completely altered — every block, street and housing type has been changed,” Mrs. Presley said in an e-mail sent late Monday to County Council President Tom Perez, Takoma Park Democrat, and Michael Knapp, a Germantown Democrat who represents Clarksburg.

“We need assistance in securing hearing dates and agendas that allow for due process for the citizens,” Mrs. Presley said. “It is imperative that we be allowed the opportunity to present comprehensively the scope and nature of the violations.”

Mr. Knapp said yesterday he told Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage that he thought the advisory committee’s request “makes sense.”

Committee members have spent thousands of hours documenting what they contend are numerous violations at Clarksburg Town Center, where about 770 residences are built but no retail or business construction has begun.

The Planning Board has confirmed that more than 500 homes were built too high or too close to the street, and that the violations were not made public until a Park and Planning staffer, Wynn Witthans, admitted in May to falsifying site plans.

Ms. Witthans was placed on leave and has resigned. Park and Planning Director Charles E. Loehr has announced his retirement, effective Oct. 31.

The citizens advisory committee has produced evidence of numerous other issues with the Clarksburg Town Center. Streets have been changed and built too narrowly, a broad pedestrian avenue connecting a historic church with the town center has been removed, elevations have been changed, affordable housing is behind schedule, and plat records were approved before clearance of the site plans against which they were supposed to be checked, committee documentation shows.

The county government’s inspector general, the Maryland special prosecutor and the council staff are conducting separate investigations.

Attorneys for Newland have argued that the Planning Board gave Park and Planning staff unusual authority to make broad changes without board or public notification, but the advisory committee has said that the county code clearly forbade many of the changes that were made.

Further, the committee said, no evidence shows that staff approved many of the significant changes.

“Our mission is to change this current climate of developer free reign,” Mrs. Presley said.

She said the Planning Board and the County Council continue to encourage this climate by failing to hold developers and builders accountable.

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